Noise, Noise, Noise

Noise is a the foe of any information transmission, yet the total elimination of noise is–counter-intuitively–bad.

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Nature is, from our human perspective, inherently noisy, and this noise is inherent to its beauty. When we try to over-fit a simple order we get something that is, yes, lined up neatly, but also dead.

Nature is not truly noisy, but the mathematics that underlies its order is more complicated than we can easily model (it is only in the past century that we’ve developed the tools necessary to model tomorrow’s weather with any degree of accuracy, for example.) Whether we are drawing trees or clouds, controlled randomness works far better than regular repetition. (If you want to get technical, the math involved tends to involve fractals.)

In photography, dithering is the intentional application of noise to randomize quantitization errors. According to Wikipedia:

Dither is routinely used in processing of both digital audio and video data, and is often one of the last stages of mastering audio to a CD.

A common use of dither is converting a greyscale image to black and white, such that the density of black dots in the new image approximates the average grey level in the original.

…[O]ne of the earliest [applications] of dither came in World War II. Airplane bombers used mechanical computers to perform navigation and bomb trajectory calculations. Curiously, these computers (boxes filled with hundreds of gears and cogs) performed more accurately when flying on board the aircraft, and less well on ground. Engineers realized that the vibration from the aircraft reduced the error from sticky moving parts. Instead of moving in short jerks, they moved more continuously. Small vibrating motors were built into the computers, and their vibration was called dither from the Middle English verb “didderen,” meaning “to tremble.” Today, when you tap a mechanical meter to increase its accuracy, you are applying dither, and modern dictionaries define dither as a highly nervous, confused, or agitated state. In minute quantities, dither successfully makes a digitization system a little more analog in the good sense of the word.

— Ken Pohlmann, Principles of Digital Audio[1]

The term dither was published in books on analog computation and hydraulically controlled guns shortly after World War II.[2][3] 

This mechanical dithering is also why many people play “white noise” sounds while studying or falling asleep (my eldest used to fall asleep to the sound of the shower). As the article notes:

Quantization yields error. If that error is correlated to the signal, the result is potentially cyclical or predictable. In some fields, especially where the receptor is sensitive to such artifacts, cyclical errors yield undesirable artifacts. In these fields introducing dither converts the error to random noise. The field of audio is a primary example of this. The human ear functions much like a Fourier transform, wherein it hears individual frequencies.[8][9] The ear is therefore very sensitive to distortion, or additional frequency content, but far less sensitive to additional random noise at all frequencies such as found in a dithered signal.[10]

In digital audio, like CDs, dithering reduces the distortion caused by data compression (a necessary part of the process of producing CDs). The same process works in digital photography, as demonstrated in these photos:

ditheringCapture
from Wikipedia

In art, dithering allows artists to create a wide range of colors out of a limited palette (this is, of course, how the colors in newspaper comics are created).

There are many different ways to dither, and subsequently many different dithering algorithms, all created with the intention of using random noise to increase the quality of images/sound/readings, etc.

Too much noise is of course a problem, but as photographer Frederik Mork notes:

Don’t forget that noise can also be a creative tool. Especially when paired with black-and-white, high ISO noise can sometimes add a lot of atmosphere to the image. Some images need noise.

Symmetrical faces are supposed to be more attractive than less-symmetrical faces, but this only applies up to a point. Even very beautiful faces are not truly symmetrical, and increasing their symmetricality (by mirroring the left side over the right, or the right side over the left) does not improve them:

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Nicole Kidman

I don’t know where this image came from originally, but I found it in a YouTube video.  There is a literature on this subject, probably primarily related to plastic surgery. The image on the left is a Nicole as she normally appears; the image in the center is Nicole with the right side of her face mirrored, an the image on the right is the left side of her face. Note that the original contains several asymmetries: her hair, her eyebrows, and even the way her necklace lies on her chest.

This post was inspired by a conversation about what it meant to be a “good” musician, and whether one can be a reasonable judge of music outside of one’s own musical tastes. If I love rap but hate techno, can I still recognize which techno songs are considered “good” by some standard other than “techno fans like it”? Is all art subjective, or are some pieces actually better or worse than others?

I am a simple creature, and I do not really understand the depths of what goes into creating music. I can squeak out a few notes on a recorder and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the piano, but deeper theories behind things like “harmonic intervals” and “chords” are beyond me. Music to me is an immersive sensory experience (more so since quarantine has induced a state of semi-zen that has quieted the normally very loud meta and meta-meta narrative in my head). Whether something is good or bad I cannot say in any quantitative sense, but to paraphrase the words of Justice Stewart, I know it when I feel it.

I had very little exposure to popular music as a kid (I listened to a lot of “Christian rock”), and only began listening to music seriously and sorting out what I liked and didn’t in grad school, so whatever arguments you have about people forming their musical taste in highschool don’t apply.

I tend to like music that has a lot of distortion–noise, if you will. (I like music that reflect what I feel, and my feelings look like a Jackson Pollock.)

You might have noticed that my current favorite musician is Gary Numan (the guy who sang “Cars” back in 1979.) I don’t like most of Numan’s early work (like “Cars”); the sound is too simple. It took a couple of decades for Numan to develop the layers of complexity and necessary to create the sort of musical soundscape I enjoy. Compare, for example, his 1979 performance of “Are Friends Electric” to his 2013 performance of the same song. They are the same song, but with slightly different arrangements; I don’t know the technical words to describe them, but I find the 1979 version merely acceptable, while the 2013 hit me like a brick. (That’s a good thing, in this context.)

Or, heck, let’s compare Cars 1979, with Cars 2009 (with NIN). Okay, so the first thing that stands out to me is that 2009 Gary Numan has gotten laid and is no longer afraid to move around the stage, unlike 1979 Numan. Second, Trent Reznor on the tambourine is hilarious. Third, there is WAY more noise in the second recording–especially since it is live and there is a screaming audience–and this does not detract from the experience: I vastly prefer the 2009 version.

One of the things I love about Numan’s music is that you can do this; you can listen to the same piece from different eras and see how his style has changed and evolved.

To really appreciate his new new style, though, I think it’s best to listen to new compositions, rather than covers of his older work, like I am Dust, Ghost Nation, or Crazier (with Rico).

Music, as I understand it, is built from a disturbed mathematical progression of sounds. A sequence of sounds in a regular pattern builds up our expectation of what will come next, and the violation of this sequence creates surprise, which–when done properly–our brains enjoy. If the pattern simply repeated over and over, it would become boring.

I recently enjoyed a documentary on Netflix about ZZ Top, (who knows, maybe they’ll become my favorite band someday). At one point in the documentary the band described the difficulties of their first recording session. They had their song, had their band, had their instruments, but the guy doing the recording just couldn’t capture the right sound. He had microphones all around the recording studio, but just couldn’t get what he wanted. So he proposed that the band loosen the strings on their guitars (or maybe it was just one guitar, forgive me, it’s been a while) to create a slightly out of tune sound. The band’s manager was having nothing of it: the instruments needed to be in tune. Finally the recording studio guy proposed that the manager run out to get them some barbecue, because it was getting on toward dinner time, and conveniently directed the manager to a restaurant across the county line, a good half hour away. With the manager gone for the next hour and fifteen minutes, they untuned the guitars and finally got the sound they were looking for.

(Here’s ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man.)

Is this a “better” sound? It’s a different sound. It’s not the standard sound, and if you’re looking for the standard sound that guitars are supposed to make, this isn’t it. Is it wrong, on technical grounds? Or is it right because it was the sound the band wanted to make?

This whole post was inspired by the claim that Kurt Cobain was, technically, not a good musician. I found this accusation absolutely flabbergasting. Of course, I regard pretty much anyone who can crank out a tune on a guitar as “good”, and anyone who can top the charts as “excellent” by default. If we want to differentiate between top stars, well, I guess we can, but in the immortal words of @dog_rates, they’re all good dogs, Brent.

I’m not a huge Nirvana fan–like I said, I never listened to them as a kid (I didn’t have MTV and couldn’t have told you the difference between Pearl Jam and Oyster Jelly), but I like grunge and Nirvana is part of that.

After some conversation, I realized that my interlocutor and I were using different definitions of “technically,” which is always a sign that you should stop arguing about dumb stuff on the internet and go take a walk, except when you’re quarantined. I meant “technically” as in “actually,” while he meant it in the sense of “the proper way of doing something; by the manual.” His argument was that Kurt Cobain did not play the guitar properly according to the manual for how to play a guitar. Kurt was dropping notes, or not pushing down the strings properly, or otherwise playing lazily and not doing it right. Someone who has taken lessons on “how to play a guitar” will not be able to play like Kurt because he was being sloppy and not playing properly. They will have to learn how to be sloppy.

Naturally, I found this argument baffling. I have no idea how to play the guitar, but my standard for whether a piece of music is good or not is based on how it sounds, not how it is produced. I am listening to Nirvana now and I don’t hear–to my ears–any flaws.

To say that there is a “proper” way to play a guitar that is a standard benchmark against which musicians are judged sounds like some sort of  prescriptivist nonsense. It’s like saying that there is a proper way to paint, and that “impressionism” isn’t it:

800px-monet_-_impression2c_sunrise
Monet’s Impression, Sunrise

An outraged critic, Louis Leroy, coined the label “Impressionist.” He looked at Monet’s Impression Sunrise, the artist’s sensory response to a harbor at dawn, painted with sketchy brushstrokes. “Impression!” the journalist snorted. “Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished!” Within a year, the name Impressionism was an accepted term in the art world.

If the name was accepted, the art itself was not. “Try to make Monsieur Pissarro understand that trees are not violet; that the sky is not the color of fresh butter…and that no sensible human being could countenance such aberrations…try to explain to Monsieur Renoir that a woman’s torso is not a mass of decomposing flesh with those purplish-green stains,” wrote art critic Albert Wolff after the second Impressionist exhibition.

Although some people appreciated the new paintings, many did not. The critics and the public agreed the Impressionists couldn’t draw and their colors were considered vulgar. Their compositions were strange. Their short, slapdash brushstrokes made their paintings practically illegible. Why didn’t these artists take the time to finish their canvases, viewers wondered?

Indeed, Impressionism broke every rule of the French Academy of Fine Arts, the conservative school that had dominated art training and taste since 1648.

The “proper” way to play a guitar is however sounds good, and if it sounds better with dropped notes and imperfectly depressed strings, then that is the proper way to play. This is grunge, and grunge is intentionally high on the distortion.

Whether it sounds good or not is, of course, a matter of opinion, but Smells Like Teen Spirit has over a billion views on YouTube, so I think it’s fair to say that there are a lot of people out there who think this is a very good song. From their perspective, Kurt Cobain is a very talented musician.

There’s a saying that you have to learn the rules in order to know when to break the rules. It applies primarily in art and literature, but I suppose it applies to the rest of life, too. When you are learning to write, you learn the rules of grammar and punctuation. If you become a poet, you know when and how to throw all of that out the window. If you want to be an artist, you need to know how to paint; later you can throw together whatever colors you want. If you want to play music, then you need to learn to play properly–harmonic intervals and all that, I suppose–but when you actually play music, you need to know when to break the rules and how subtle differences in the way the notes are played result in massive differences in the music. Compare, for example, NIN’s Hurt to Johnny Cash’s.

This is a song that gets its power from our subverted expectations; we expect an increase in tempo that never really comes, creating a tension that stretches out across the song, finally breaking at 4:33 (in Trent’s version).

In these two songs, I think Trent’s version is “better” in the technical skills sense, but Cash’s version is better in the absolute punch in the guts sense. This is simply because of who Trent and Cash are; they each bring their own sense of self to the song: Trent the sense of a bitter youth; Cash the sense of an old man composing his epitaph.

Let us end with some Alice in Chains:

I hope you have enjoyed the songs.

Let’s Talk about Music, Baby

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There has been a lot of chatter lately about whether the development of human musical abilities can be explained via some form of sexual selection. Most of this debate has been needlessly heated/involved more insults than it warrants, so I don’t want to pick on any particular people, but all of it seems to have overlooked some basic facts:

  1. Musical success–at least as expressed in our culture–is strongly dimorphic in favor of men.
  2. Music groupies–that is, fans who want to have sex with musicians–are strongly dimorphic in favor of women (especially teens).
  3. Successful musicians have tons of sex.

Let’s run through a little evidence on each of these points. First, talent: 

Wikipedia has a nice list of musicians/bands by # of albums sold. It probably doesn’t include folks like Beethoven, but that’s for the best since it would muck up the data to have artists whose work has been for sale for so long.

The top selling artists, with 250 million or more record sales, are:

The Beatles
Elvis
Micheal Jackson
Madonna
Elton John
Led Zeppelin
Rhianna
Pink Floyd

If this list surprises you, you might want to listen to more music.

Men dominate women here 3:1.

I’m not going to list the rest of the top-selling artists on the page, but if we total them up,  I count 27 women/female bands (including two bands that are half women) and 83 male (including the two half-male bands).

Remarkably, 83:27 (and 89:29) is almost exactly 3:1.

Now, some people object that “people liking their music enough to fork over money for it” is not a good measure of “musical talent,” but it is definitely a measure of musical success. If someone is super talented but no one wants to listen to them, well, I am a bit skeptical of the claim that they are talented.

The other common response I get to this runs along the lines of “But we tested musical ability in a lab, and in our experiments, men and women did equally well.”

So?

All that shows is that you got different results; it doesn’t explain why the dimorphism exists in the real world. There are exceedingly few top-selling musicians in the world (118 on Wikipedia’s list, plus or minus a few deaths,) and it’s highly doubtful that anyone of this caliber wandered into a university music lab. It may be that musicians of average quality show no dimorphism at all (or are even biased toward women) while exceptional musicians are disproportionately male, just because there is no particular reason to assume that two different groups of people have the same range of abilities even if they have the same average. In fact, men have a greater range than women in many documented areas, like height and IQ–that is, while there are more men than women in Mensa, there are also more boys than girls in Special Ed.

Second, groupies: 

The first time Scottish concert promoter Andi Lothian booked the Beatles, in the frozen January of 1963, only 15 people showed up. The next time he brought them north of the border… it was as if a hurricane had blown into town.

The night almost unravelled when nervous local police insisted Lothian bring the Beatles on early to satisfy rowdily impatient fans, even though his bouncers were still in the pub. “The girls were beginning to overwhelm us,” remembers Lothian, now 73 and a business consultant. “I saw one of them almost getting to Ringo’s drumkit and then I saw 40 drunk bouncers tearing down the aisles. It was like the Relief of Mafeking! It was absolute pandemonium. Girls fainting, screaming, wet seats. The whole hall went into some kind of state, almost like collective hypnotism. I’d never seen anything like it.”

A Radio Scotland reporter turned to Lothian and gasped, “For God’s sake Andi, what’s happening?” Thinking on his feet, the promoter replied, “Don’t worry, it’s only… Beatlemania.” — Beatlemania: The Screamers and other Tales of Fandom

normal_fans_21.jpg.w300h282As for Elvis:

Gone are all the jerky body movements that once earned Elvis Presley the nickname of ‘The Pelvis’. Gone are all the actions that were dubbed vulgar by his critics. Presley’s stage performance is now restrained. But that did not stop 5,500 wildly excited spectators at the Bloch Arena, Pearl Harbour, Hawaii from going outrageously wild with unreserved enthusiasm last Saturday night. Never have I heard anything like it. Their enthusiasm was fever-pitch, and they were screaming non-stop from start to finish, making it impossible to identify some of the songs he sang. Whether he was talking, singing, raising his eyebrows or just breathing, it was a signal for the volume of excitement to rise higher and higher throughout this fantastic concert.

Hundreds of naval police at this U.S. Navy fortress were detailed to restrain fanatical fans from invading the stage, and they were kept busy for the entire show. …

The climax came when he closed with the all-out rocker ‘Hound Dog’, the signal for the greatest bout of unlimited pandemonium, many of the younger girls going completely berserk! Then came the trickiest part of all – ‘Operation Exit Elvis’ – to get Presley out of the building before the crowd could tear him apart from sheer adoration.

More about the screaming.

Why all of the screaming?

“Screaming girls”—that was a recurring theme in newspaper reviews of Elvis’s stage shows in 1956 and 1957. At almost every stop, the girls screamed so loud that no one could hear Elvis sing. Even the musicians on stage had trouble hearing each other. … Elvis himself explained that at times in 1957 he had to cover his ears with his hands so that he could hear himself sing. …

When I spoke with some women who had attended an Elvis concert back in 1957, most of them admitted they had screamed. …

“We screamed when he came out. I didn’t know I was going to yell and scream. I’d never done that in my whole life. It was spontaneous. …  He could excite you with his music so much. My mom’s gone; I guess she wouldn’t care if I said it now … it was like a sexual experience. It went through your body kind of like that.”

Kurt Cobain’s suicide sent weeping girls into the streets:

A rumor went around in ninth grade English class. We went home and turned on MTV to find out for sure. I remember girls crying in the hallway. …

I was watching the news when I heard, and cried. It was believable and unbelievable, all at the same time. It’s our generation’s “Where were you…?” moment. My husband, our friends, all remember where we were when we heard the news and how devastated we were. …

I was in the bathroom getting ready for school, and my dad yelled “Hey, some guy from that band you like is dead.”

I walked into the living room and saw them playing footage from one of their performances on the TV. And then they said his name. I immediately started bawling. I don’t think my mom made me go to school that day.

In Seattle:

Seattle bid goodbye to Kurt Cobain on April 10 in true grunge-rock style, bursting the ranks of a quickly organized public vigil and leaping into the nearby international fountain, a giant, water-spouting structure some 50 yards wide and ten feet deep that flanks the Flag Pavilion. … Weeping girls wore beauty pageant banners around their middles, made out of the plastic yellow, “POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS” tape, the same kind of tape which, three days earlier, had criss-crossed the driveway to Cobain and Courtney Love’s home.

At this point, denying that women (especially teen girls) seem to have some sort of thing for rock stars is right up there with denying that men have a thing for fertile young women with hourglass figures.

Third, the sex:

Chuck-Berry-and-Mick-Jagger
Mick Jagger and Chuck Berry

Groupie sex, oh groupie sex. How many groupies have rockstars actually boned?

Vice has an article titled Elvis was the King of Treating Women like Shit and Luring 14 Year Olds into Bed. Elvis had sex with a lot of teenagers (including Priscilla Marie, who was 14 when they met).

Cracked has a pretty good overview if you’ve never heard of groupies before:

We’ve already written about the sex tents that Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar had installed wherever he performed so that he could disappear mid-solo and indulge himself in a groupie or nine. But that’s not the only way Van Halen was entrepreneurial with his young fans. Let’s take a minute and discuss how original frontman David Lee Roth amused his roadies by sending them out on groupie scavenger hunts.

From his lofty position on the stage, Roth would instruct his roadies to dive into the crowd and collect very specific girls for him to have sex on. The lucky girl would be given a special backstage pass with the initials of the roadie who approached her written in the top corner. If that pass was then among the ones strewn on his floor the next morning, Roth would reward the roadie with a $100 bonus at breakfast the next morning, because exchanging money for sex works up an appetite.

Motley Crue came up with the, uh, creative solution of rubbing burritos on their crotches so their girlfriends wouldn’t smell the scents of groupie sex on them:

He tells Hustler magazine, “We were always f**king other chicks at the studio and backstage… We would take Tommy’s (Lee) van to a restaurant called Noggles to buy these egg burritos and then rub them on our crotches to cover the smell of the girls we had just f**ked.

Let’s hear some more about these “sex tents”:

Before they became a quartet of endless punchlines, Van Halen used to be one of the coolest bands in the world, and they demonstrated their status by having sex with every female who wandered within one mile of their powerful aura. Their career is a filthy memorial to how being in a band is a more powerful aphrodisiac than things like “not looking completely ridiculous,” …

One tour saw the band build a tent directly beneath the stage specifically for Sammy Hagar’s erection. During the mid-show 20-minute guitar solos Eddie Van Halen would launch into each night, Hagar would disappear to the tent and discover a group of naked fans waiting to swallow his penis.

Mick Jagger, by the way, has (at least) eight children via five different women.

Look, I feel a little silly having to spell out in great detail the fact that rock stars get laid a lot. You probably feel a little silly reading it, yet there are people who seem hellbent on arguing that there’s no particular evidence in favor of sexual selection for musical talent.

And no, you can’t explain this away by saying that musicians are “famous” and that women want to have sex with all sorts of famous people. Donald Trump is famous, but he doesn’t have sex tents. Leonardo diCaprio is famous and has legions of fans, but as far as I know, he also doesn’t have sex tents.

I agree that we can’t definitively prove how musical talent evolved among the first humans, (because we don’t have time machines,) but the correlation between sex and music today, in our own society, is overwhelming. A claim that it didn’t have similar effects on our ancestors needs to explain what changed so radically between then and now.

Likewise, we can’t assume that just because music works like this in our own society, it must also work this way in every other society. But conversely, just because something doesn’t work in one society doesn’t imply it doesn’t work in every society. There are a lot of groups out there, and some of them are obviously weird in ways that are’t relevant to everyone else. Some people, for example, like to dress up like anthropomorphic animals and go to conventions. We should be cautious about over-generalizing from small examples. Sure, there might be a random tribe somewhere that with weird traditions like killing any women who see a musical instrument being played, but these tribes generally have fewer people in them than one concert’s worth of screaming Elvis fans.

Attempting to discuss music: Deutschland, Numan

People will criticize–because people always criticize–but I see Rammstein grappling with a difficult thing: identity.

The song–intense, burning–glorifies and repudiates. At times Germania is strong; at times she is devoured; at times she is lovely; at times she is brutal. In one scene, the band members, dressed as concentration camp victims, shoot her in the face. In another, Germania makes out with a band member’s decapitated head.

Modern identities in countries experiencing massive change–technological, demographic–are fraught, particularly so in a place like Germany, whose history is so controversial:

Germany
My heart in flames
Want to love you
Want to damn you

Some will criticize the band’s decision to represent Germany as a black woman. (If you didn’t catch that before, go back and re-watch. The black woman is Germania, Germany.) Controversial, yes. But it makes her much easier to spot and thus the video easier to understand.

Others will criticize the band members’ decision to dress themselves as Holocaust victims. This is, for many, a no-go; they cannot watch or find peace with such depictions. But the band is in no way glorifying the Holocaust. I do not think they are trivializing it, nor merely trying to capitalize on it for money. They are artists dealing with a very difficult subject–German identity–and the Holocaust is part of that. It is a history that has to be dealt with, even if by shooting it in the face. If someone manages to depict the holocaust in a way that isn’t horrifying, something has gone wrong.

We should not criticize art simply because the artist is good enough at art that they get paid for it.

The lyrics are minimal; QankHD on Reddit did a nice job of translating them (I have included their notes):

You have cried a lot
In the mind apart
In the heart united

We have been together for a very long time
Your breath is cold
The heart in flames
You, I, Us, You (plural)

Germany
My heart in flames
Want to love you
Want to damn you
Germany
Your breath is cold
so young
and yet so old
Germany

I never want to leave you
One want to love you
And want to hate you
Overbearing (arrogant)
Superior
To take over (I think this is the only proper way to translate this in context here)
To surrender (giving away, can also be read as throwing up)
Surprising
To attack (to assault, raid, invade)
Germany Germany over everyone

 [some repetition]

Superior (super powerful)
Needless (dispensable, a waste)
Übermenschen 
Sick of (tired, bored)
The higher you climb, the farther you fall
Germany Germany over everyone

[repetition]

Germany
Your love is a curse and a blessing
Germany
My love I cannot give to you
Germany

Many people will mistakenly accuse Rammstein of being fascist reactionaries simply because they sound like angry Germans. No honest reading of the song supports this; everything from the lyrics to the casting of a black woman as Germania indicates pure leftism. Rammstein’s industrial beats, no matter how intense, come out of an era when the shocking was still primarily in support of liberalism.

Most songs deal with love in some way. Pop songs are about falling in love, rap about sex, goth about how the singer’s love has died and he will never love again. In Rammstein, love is death:

Du Hast (You Have) depicts the band members kidnapping and murdering a man, apparently on behalf of a woman (perhaps someone he has harmed).

The core of Du Hast:

You have asked me and I have said nothing
Do you want to be faithful for eternity
Until death parts you?

No! No!

In Rosenrot, a monk is seduced by a young woman, who convinces him to murder her husband. She then betrays him, and he is burned at the stake, the young woman throwing the first flaming torch onto his pyre.

In the lyrics, a young man falls to his death attempting to bring a red rose to his love.

Sonne (Sun) depicts the band members as the Seven Dwarves, enslaved to Snow White, who forces them to toil in the mines all day to keep her supplied with gold and drugs.

Love is a conflicted emotion for these guys; nationalism no less so. Anyone who criticizes Rammstein for being shocking has missed the entire point of the band. These are guys who regularly perform with flamethrowers and incorporate jackhammers into their songs. One band member had his cheeks pierced so he could perform with a light inside his mouth. Shock and horror are an integral part of what the band does.

The song itself, played without the video, doesn’t stand out to me. Engel combines innovative sounds (whistling) plus the high pitch of a woman’s voice against the industrial steel. Du Hast carries you on its rhythm with an intensity that makes English speakers mistranslate “have” as “hate.” Of course, songs often become more loved with repetition (which is why I listened to the song 5 or 6 times before writing this); part of the joy of music is the joy of counting without realizing it, of expectations fulfilled (repetition of the chorus) and violated–the introduction of new instruments, alteration of previous chords.

Deutschland doesn’t stand out musically to me; the song is almost just background music to the video, with sections lifted from previous works–most notably the ending, when Germania, having given birth to… a litter of puppies? is finally sent to space, in Snow White’s glass coffin, while the instrumental music from Sonne (the Snow White song) plays quietly. It is peaceful in space. The lyrics of Sonne, if you know them, translate to “Here comes the sun;” I interpret the ending as hopeful. Germania is asleep, but a new day is dawning, perhaps a better day.

In contrast to Deutschland, Gary Numan’s Basement cover of “Are Friends Electric?” was an immediate emotional punch to the gut:

The video itself is not much–mostly the band performing in a damp basement–but the song is haunting and atmospheric. The basement is decayed, almost crypt-like. Water drips, forming stalactites and puddles. Piano notes in discordant tones.

It’s cold outside–and a puff of breath in the air, damp claminess.

Words are whispered, almost inaudible. The instruments take over. The song is transformed. Loneliness. Emptiness. Hearts burst. Feelings explode. The instruments are like sirens in the night.

In the end, we are alone. Are friends electric? Mine’s still broken.

I don’t have nearly as much to say about this video, but I love the song.

Feel Something

My Name is Ruin, by Gary Numan

Me: In my zone, listening to music
Husband: Look at this dumb shit someone said on the internet
Me: What? Brains?

So far, everything I have listened to on this album is excellent.

By the way, Mongolia still isn’t sorry–The Hu, Yuve Yuve Yu

Mongolia is going to fuck your shit up and take your women, apparently.

Nirvana: Smells Like Teen Spirit

Guys, I have discovered the point of music. It’s sex.

Alice in Chains: Them Bones

In retrospect, I guess it’s not a surprise that a lot grunge musicians died of drugs or suicide.

Smashing Pumpkins: Bullet with Butterfly Wings

As long as you can still scream, you can still feel.

I don’t know if we can scream anymore.

Placebo–literally, “I please”–Sucker Love:

Their lead singer is a good example of a male playing up his effeminate qualities in order to get laid.
Husband: You can’t just say that without explanation.
Me: Have you seen the lead singer? I guarantee he gets tons of sex.
Husband: Is he gay?
Me: Whatever he’s into, he gets plenty of it.

There’s a lesson here for effeminate men thinking “Hey, would it be easier for me if I became a girl?”

No. It wouldn’t. Be you. Own who you are and find the people who are attracted to you.

AFI: Miss Murder

Gary Numan aside, it seems like the music scene has changed in fundamental ways over the past few decades. I don’t think there is anyone in the business today whose suicide would affect teens like Kurt Cobain’s, just because there is no one that widely loved. It’s not that society is more divided (though perhaps it is); we just don’t listen to music like we used to.

Of course popular music is still around, and still of varying (usually low) quality.

To hazard a guess, if music is really about reproducing, then the change in music is related to the decline in birth rates. A typical modern human mating ritual involves going to a club, listening to a band or some very loud recorded music, getting drunk, and meeting someone you’d like to have sex with. These clubs also provide a place for new bands to get started. But if fewer people go out, clubs close, people meet fewer other people, people are lonelier, birth rates drop, and new bands have a harder time getting noticed, and the industry changes.

On a final note:

This is why certain traits persist in the population.

Your Favorite Songs (or Bands)

I don’t want to be one of those people who just gets attached to whatever was on the radio when they were 14 years old (or 18, or whenever) and never learns to like anything else because that’s incredibly stupid.

But I don’t exactly have time to be involved in the club scene and I feel disconnected from whatever is going on in music these days (if anything, I have the distinct feeling that “music these days” is much less of a thing… Maybe because kids these days are more into doing SJW things on tumblr than going out or buying albums.)

I’m hard pressed to claim I have a favorite song, but here are some I enjoy:

The Cruxshadows: Singularities (Youtube doesn’t allow embedding for this one, but it is good so click on it anyway.)

Please share some of your favorites in the comments.

Bonus question: do you think different musical genres appeal to different kinds of people outside of habit or ethnic background? (IE, obviously I’d expect Mexican singers to be more popular in Mexico and Pakistani singers to be popular in Pakistan, but do particular sorts of tunes appeal to different personalities?)

Musical Mystery

Singer Tom Jones, famous recipient of ladies’ panties

There are three categories of supersars who seem to attract excessive female interest. The first is actors, who of course are selected for being abnormally attractive and put into romantic and exciting narratives that our brains subconsciously interpret as real. The second are sports stars and other athletes, whose ritualized combat and displays of strength obviously indicate their genetic “fitness” for siring and providing for children.

The third and strangest category is professional musicians, especially rock stars.

I understand why people want to pass athletic abilities on to their children, but what is the evolutionary importance of musical talent? Does music tap into some deep, fundamental instinct like a bird’s attraction to the courtship song of its mate? And if so, why?

There’s no denying the importance of music to American courtship rituals–not only do people visit bars, clubs, and concerts where music is being played in order to meet potential partners, but they also display musical tastes on dating profiles in order to meet musically-like-minded people.

Of all the traits to look for in a mate, why rate musical taste so highly? And why do some people describe their taste as, “Anything but rap,” or “Anything but country”?

Mick Jagger and Chuck Berry

At least when I was a teen, musical taste was an important part of one’s “identity.” There were goths and punks, indie scene kids and the aforementioned rap and country fans.

Is there actually any correlation between musical taste and personality? Do people who like slow jazz get along with other slow jazz fans better than fans of classical Indian? Or is this all compounded by different ethnic groups identifying with specific musical styles?

Obviously country correlates with Amerikaner ancestry; rap with African American. I’m not sure what ancestry is biggest fans of Die Antwoord. Heavy Metal is popular in Finno-Scandia. Rock ‘n Roll got its start in the African American community as “Race Music” and became popular with white audiences after Elvis Presley took up the guitar.

While Europe has a long and lovely musical heritage, it’s indisputable that African Americans have contributed tremendously to American musical innovation.

Here are two excerpts on the subject of music and dance in African societies:

source: A Voyage to Senegal: The Isle of Goreé, and the River Gambia by  Michel Adanson, Correspondent of the Royal Academy of Sciences

and:

source: Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience Aardvark-Catholic. Vol. 1
Elvis’s pelvis, considered too sexy for TV

Both of these h/t HBD Chick and my apologies in advance if I got the sources reversed.

One of the major HBD theories holds that the three races vary–on average–in the distribution of certain traits, such as age of first tooth eruption or intensity of an infant’s response to a tissue placed over its face. Sub-Saharan Africans and Asians are considered two extremes in this distribution, with whites somewhere in between.

If traditional African dancing involves more variety in rhythmic expression than traditional European, does traditional Asian dance involve less? I really know very little about traditional Asian music or dance of any kind, but I would not be surprised to see some kind of continuum affected by whether a society traditionally practiced arranged marriages. Where people chose their own mates, it seems like they display a preference for athletic or musically talented mates (“sexy” mates;) when parents chose mates, they seem to prefer hard-working, devout, “good providers.”

Natasha Rostova and Andrei Bolkonsky, from War and Peace by Tolstoy

Even in traditional European and American society, where parents played more of a role in courtship than they do today, music still played a major part. Young women, if their families could afford it, learned to play the piano or other instruments in order to be “accomplished” and thus more attractive to higher-status men; young men and women often met and courted at musical events or dances organized by the adults.

It is undoubtedly true that music stirs the soul and speaks to the heart, but why?

 

Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata

My favorite song. I always think of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther when I hear it. Can you not see Werther and Lotte in the garden at night?

Someday I will learn to play it.

——-

I don’t expect a lot of visitors today, since it’s Christmas, so I thought I’d make a tally of the most popular search terms that lead people to this blog in the past month (most searches are encrypted so that I don’t see them, but a few make it through.) I’ve condensed similar searches into general categories; I assume that whatever people are searching for a lot, they’d like to see more of.

13 searches for megafauna (Considering I have only one post on megafauna, I guess I need more.)

12 neanderthal native / south american DNA (I did not expect this to be so popular. I guess it’s an interesting question, and there isn’t a whole lot of information on it yet, in part because doing genetic research on Native Americans is probably kind of tricky.)

7 interesting searches for really specific things that aren’t on this blog

6 why do white people tan / general queries about tanning

5 on female disgust of male sexuality/men

3 queries about San / Pygmies / African DNA

3 autism somalia

3 bullies / bullying

3 white womens tears

2 melanin / melatonin aggression

2 slatestarcodex

2 motorcycles / bikers

2 sentinelese / onge

2 male sexuality

 

6 Interesting questions:

who has neanderthal DNA (pretty much everyone outside of Africa and possibly a lot of people in Africa.)

do orangutans get get acne? (I wonder that, too.)

who has better hygiene liberals or conservatives (Mexicans shampoo more than Americans, but among whites, I’d guess that liberals use more soap but also behave in ways that expose them to more germs. Conservatives probably use less soap, but also avoid germs.)

could a human chimera be transgender (Technically, they’d be intersex.)

why do liberals care about environment (I don’t know.)

why do we do self flogging in anxiety even though we know it is not correct (probably because your ancestors were people whose worrying lead them to be conscientious and careful at work and avoid fighting with people in their community, which helped them succeed in life and have more children.)

are all aspies losers (Oh come on, what kind of answer do you expect? A statistical breakdown of the relatives success rates of people called “aspie” at some point in their lives?)

 

And some lonely searches:

southern african rock art

evolutionary or genetic theory of state formation

iron eyes cody transracial

longevity in african americans

biracial women in the 50s

man arrested 70 times before 30

neighbor one man leaves their garbage out social norms

gender equality in hunter gatherers

schizophrenia high IQ 120

y chromosome math

how did western expansion lead to civil war

people constantly lie

i don’t understand women

is humor masculine?

white atheists ethnic identity

things that hurt the soul

dangers of apartheid

“red tribe” patriotism confederacy

epigenetics and prisoners

october 2015 women combat draft

rupert murdoch liar

conservatives suck

false empathy

getting sick build up immune system

marx and memetics

 

Well, to everyone who’s read, linked, or dropped in to say hello, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year.

Little-Crab-Christmas-Applique-Machine-Embroidery-Digitized-Design-Pattern-280x280

 

Family, Nation, and History

What does it mean to belong?

Despite my inauspicious start, it turns out that I do have history of my own. For privacy reasons, I can’t give too many details, but so far, after reading family histories assembled by my grandparents, I’ve found immigrants in the early 1700s, the 1600s, and sometime between 60 and 12,000 years ago–the exact dates of that particular migration episode is still being debated–but none in the 1800s or 1900s. (This may, of course, be merely an issue of incomplete genealogy.) I can count over a dozen ethnic groups in my family tree (though I should note that I consider the “American Nations” ethnic groups, which you may not.)

If anyone has a right to call themselves an “American,” then I suspect I do.

My husband’s family I laughingly refer to as immigrants. Okay, half of them are good, old-stock Americans. The other half, though, seem to have immigrated at some point during the 1800s. Or maybe even the early 1900s.

I have no connections to the old country; indeed, I don’t really have an old country–there is no one place that a majority of my ancestors came from. I have never had any sense of being anything other than what I am, and for much of my life, not even that. For many years, actually, I operated under quite incorrect assumptions about my origins.

On a practical level, of course, it doesn’t really matter–I would still be me if it turned out I arrived here as an infant from Kazakhstan and my whole “history” was a colossal mix-up with someone else’s. But this is my history, and as such, it is special to me, just like that ragged old bear in the closet my grandmother made. It might be worthless to you, but it’s mine.

What does it mean to have a history?

When I read about the various Bering Strait theories, I think, “Some of my ancestors were there, hunting mammoths.”

When I look at the British, French, and Spanish colonies and the American Revolution, I get to think, “Some of my ancestors were there.” Indeed, some of them were influential folks in those days. When I think about the values of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, I can say, “These were my ancestors’ ideals.”

When I look at the Civil War, well, there’s a lot of family history. My grandmother still tells the stories her great-grandmother told her about watching the Yankees burn down the family farm.

Some ancestors were pioneers. Some were farmers and some professors and some scientists who helped develop technologies that sent satellites into outer space.

And yet… Nationalism isn’t really my thing. Bald eagles, Stars and Stripes, the Pledge of Allegiance… they’re all a big nope. I don’t feel much of anything for them. I have no interest in the “Southern Cause,” and I don’t even have a particular affection for Americans–most of my close friends are immigrants. And as previously stated, I am not a white nationalist–IQ nationalist is a much better description. I like smart people.

I look out for American interests because I happen to live here. If I lived in Japan, I’d look out for Japan’s interests, simply because anything bad that happened in Japan or to the Japanese would also be happening to me–even though I’d be an immigrant with no particular history there. It is natural (particularly among leftists) to assume, therefore, that immigrants to the US may do the same.

(Edited to clarify: Commonly assumed things are often wrong. Many on the left assume that unprecedented numbers of immigrants from non-Western cultures will adopt American culture in a way that does not substantially change it. The whole point of this post is to discuss the nebulous effects of cultural change and ethnic identity. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of graphs for “How proud I feel while looking at a picture of George Washington,” so this is difficult to express.)

In fact, I know plenty of immigrants who have far more nationalism for their adopted country than I do.

(Edited to clarify: I happened to write this after visiting the home of an immigrant family that had framed versions of the Pledge of Allegiance and the Signing of the Declaration of Independence on their walls. I recognize that these people are really glad to be in this country, which they consider a vastly superior place to the one they came from.)

Is it of any importance that people have some sort of cultural connection to the place where they live?

I’ve tracked down a bunch of graphs/pictures related to immigration over time:

Map+ethnic+homelands+U.S.+new

Picture 20

(Oops, looks like a bit of text snuck in when I cropped the picture.)

Picture 21

ETA: Note that % of immigrants in the population is really at unprecedentedly high numbers, and the countries they come from have changed radically, too:

regions

Total quantity of immigrants by region of origin.

Picture 22

Picture 19

Picture 14

ETA: I thought this was obvious, but immigrants from whatever country they happen to come from tend to bring with them the norms and values of their own culture. Sometimes those norms easily mix with American ones. Sometimes they don’t.

pie-births-country-full

Picture 23

immigration-graph-irg

ETA: Another graph showing the ethnic makeup of American immigrants.

Immigration+U.S.+Germ+Engl+Irish+1840s+50s+60s+graph

ETA: So what happens when immigration goes up? Well, for starters, it looks like a lot more crime happens:

 

600px-Homicide_rates1900-2001 11217607.0002.206-00000002

And wages seem to stagnate:

fig2_prodhhincome

(The increase in household median income is due to women entering the workforce, thus increasing the number of workers per household.)

chart-01

I know there are other things going on in these time periods that could also affect income inequality, but that graph looks remarkably similar to the immigration graphs. Also:

U.S._Compensation_as_Percent_of_GDP_-_v1 Real-Wages-Long-Term   us-income-inequality-1910-2010

A lot of these came from Migration Policy Institute, but I’ve tried to use a variety of sources to avoid any particular bias or inaccuracies.

Now here we began with poetic waxing about one’s ancestors, and are whining about Irish criminality in the 1800s and how hard it is to get a job. BTW, Irish criminality was a real problem.

The correlations are suggestive, but unproven, so let’s get back to nostalgia:

From, "Most decade-specific words in Billboard popular song titles, 1890-2014"
From, “Most decade-specific words in Billboard popular song titles, 1890-2014

In the period from 1890-1920, the most common elements in the song titles seem to be family relations, friends, and nostalgia: Pal, Mammy, Home, Land, Old, Uncle, etc. This is in stark contrast to 1990-2015, when some sort of apocalyptic accident destroyed our ability to spell and we reverted to a savage state of nature: Hell, Fuck, Die, U, Ya, Thang.

Even in my own lifetime, historical nostalgia and appreciation for America’s founders seems to have drastically waned. As a child, Westerns were still occasional things and the whole mythology surrounding the settlement of the West was still floating around, though obviously nothing compared to its height in the 50s, when people were really into Davy Crockett:

800px-Davy_Crockett_by_William_Henry_Huddle,_1889

 

(Look like anyone you know? hqdefault, 1438571327352)

 

The “American Girls” line of books and toys was a big deal when I was a kid, featuring historically-themed dolls and books focusing on the American Revolution, Pioneers, Civil War, Industrialization, and WWII.

Today, the line has been re-branded as “Be Forever,” with far more focus on modern girls and cultural groups. Even the historical books have been re-designed, with “American Girl” reduced to fine print and “Be Forever” scrawled across the covers. The Revolutionary War, Pioneer, and WWII dolls have all been “retired” from the line. Yes, American history without the Revolution. The Civil War doll is still there, though.

Are slavery and the Vietnam protests the only parts of our history that we remember anymore?

Old:  51LVeMm95jL._SX390_BO1,204,203,200_  New: Picture 6

History is dead.

(Sadly, since Mattel bought the company, they’ve become delusional about the amount of pink and purple girls historically wore.)

 

What would the US look like if all the Johnny-Come-Lateys from the migration waves of the 1800s had never arrived?

I have no idea. (This is an invitation for you to discuss the question.)

In the casually pagan style of our Christian forebears, the US Capital Building rotunda features a painting titled The Apotheosis of Washington, painted by Greek-Italian artist Constantino Brumidi in 1865:

Apotheosis_of_George_Washington2

Apotheosis_of_George_Washington

This is not the only painting by this title:

The Apotheosis of Washington by John James Barralet
The Apotheosis of Washington, by John James Barralet

hb_52.585.66

Apotheosis of George Washington, by H. Weishaupt

How about a few more on the general theme?

Greenough_Geo_Washington

Statue of Washington in the style of Zeus

420px-TheApotheosisLincolnAndWashington1860s

Apotheosis of Washington and Lincoln, 1860s.

rzawashington

washington_rushmore-P

 

Things change. Life moves on. Nothing new.

 

Is a nation’s history worth preserving? How do our identities and personal histories influence our values, cultures, and connections? What does any of this mean to you?

ETA for the clueless: This is an invitation for you to present your own opinions/answers to the questions.